On Tuesday, the lawyer for Michael Brown's family called on the Ferguson Police Department to reveal the name of the officer who shot and killed the teenager on Saturday. Benjamin Crump, who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin last year, was joined by Rev. Al Sharpton and the Brown family during a press conference outside the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.
The theme was largely an appeal for justice as well as non-violence protest. Here was Crump's rationale for the release of the name:
"That doesn't give the community confidence. That doesn't make it transparent," Crump shouted, adding that if law enforcement is going to ask residents of Ferguson to obey the law, "then it's got to work both ways."
Since the shooting, Ferguson and nearby areas have been beset by protests, riots, and looting with dozens of arrests made, the firing of rubber bullets and tear gas, and some reported injuries.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, who has placed the officer on paid administrative leave, was expected to release the name, but instead shut the door, citing death threats made against the police on social media.
The value of releasing the name is far outweighed by the risk of harm to the officer and his family.”
And here we entered one of the more complicated subplots of the Brown case. The case for releasing the name is easy to make:
I don't entirely understand how a police department can withhold the name of an officer who kills someone. http://t.co/vWBHrpGK0v— Josh Barro (@jbarro) August 12, 2014
A cop kills an unarmed teenager on the street and the police won't release his name? http://t.co/rd3wsCwSWP— Alex Berenson (@AlexBerenson) August 12, 2014
There didn't seem to be many in the Twittersphere who were against unmasking the officer in question. But that didn't mean there was a precedent.
Shortly after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin (and before his killer George Zimmerman was arrested), director Spike Lee tweeted out the incorrect address of George Zimmerman. Lee was later sued by the McClains, a couple who lived at the address.
I Deeply Apologize To The McClain Family For Retweeting Their Address.It Was A Mistake.Please Leave The McClain's In Peace.Justice In Court— Spike Lee (@SpikeLee) March 29, 2012
The subtext of the tweet was obvious. The sending out of an address is an invitation. Roseanne Barr one-upped Lee by tweeting Zimmerman's real address along with a threat that: “If Zimmerman isn’t arrested I’ll rt his address again. maybe go 2 his house myself.” Barr was also sued by Zimmerman's parents.
But there's also a difference between a private citizen and a police officer.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.